Chris Hanburger the Redskins' star right linebacker and defensive signalcaller, suffered an attack of appendicitis yesterday and underwent surgery last night at Arlington Hospital.
Dr. Frank Cardenas performed the appendectomy, which took slightly less than an hour. He reported that Hanburger was suffering from acute supperative appendicitis, which means there was pus around the appendix but the organ had not burst.
Dr. Cardenas, according to a Redskin spokesman. said that Hanburger could return in as little as three weeks barring complications. Dr. Cardenas said Hanburger would be hospitalized five to seven days and that it was too early to tell when he would be back in uniform.
The Redskins open their regular season in 17 days, against the New York Giants at East Rutherford, N J.
"That's a blow to our ballclub because we lost our general" said coach George Allen. "You never want to lose an all-pro player. He's our quarterback; and it's difficult to replace a player like that, isn't it?"
Allen paused a few seconds then answered his own question. "It's impossible."
Nevertheless, Stu O'Dell, a specialteams star who has been studying linebacking under Hanburger for four years, will try to replace the 13-year veteran.
Ken Houston, the starting strong safety, will call the defensive signals in Hanburger's absence.
In a hospital interview before early evening surgery. Hanburger said he awole Wednesday night with pain in his lower abdomen.
He called Dr. Donald Knowian. the team's internist, and, following an examination, knowian had Hamburger admitted to the hospital.
The operation is one of the easiest surgical procedures and one of the most common. Hanburger's excellent physical condition presented Dr. Cardenas with a problem, he said, because Hanburger's muscles were "three or four times tougher than the normal human being's"
Hanburger had no inkling he was ill until he awoke at 3 a.m.
"I've been feeling like a million dollars," said Hanburger. "In fact, when I went to bed last night. I felt great I guess it's just one of those things that if it's going to happen, it's going to happen."
Hanburger has been in such good shape this summer. O'Dell has had little chance to get game experience Hanburger has played in 135 straight regular-season NFL games.
"Chris is the best teacher you can have," said O'Dell, a 13th-round draft choice from Indiana in 1974. "I've watched him for four years. I should know my stuff. If I don't I'm hurting. I have confidence in myself and I want to prove myself."
"Chris is such a steady player," said Houston. "He's always there: he's never hurt. They only reason I would practice calling the signals was for the day when he would retire. It's just a system. You just replace a piece in the system. That's why this team can win."
It is now almost certain the Redskins will open the season without two veteran starters - Hanburger and Pat Fischer. the left cornerback who is trying to overcome a pinched nerve in his back. Fischer a 17-year veteran again ran on his own yesterday morning but did not remain for teammeetings or practice.
Hamburger, the NFC defensive player of the year when the 1972 Redskins went to the Super Bowl, has made the ALL-NFL team three times and has been selected to play in the Pro Bowl nine times.
A glum Allen showed his only sign of levity yesterday when asked how long Hanburger would be out. "I've had a player come back in two weeks. One in three weeks, one in four weeks and another in six weeks." Allen said. "I once had a player come back in 12 days. but he didn't play too well."
Regarding the possibility that O'Dell may be taken from the special teams because of his new job. special teams coach Paul Lanham said: "O'Dell was one of our best guys. If he would stay off permanently. it would be very difficult to replace him. A guy should play at least all six exhibition games . . . It would take a rookie five to six weeks into the regular season to get comfortable on the teams."
For the time being. tight-end Bill Larson has replaced O'Dell on the punt team: linebacker Joe Harris has replaced him on the punt-return team. and safety Mark Murphy has replaced him on the kickoff-return outfit. O'Dell has not been replaced on the kickoff unit.
Dennis Johnson. the starting right defensive end, and O'Dell will have to learn how to play off each other. Initially. Johnson said he will not be able to gamble as much as he did when Hanburger was behind him.
"I've got to learn how he (O'Dell) plays in different situations," said Johnson, who became a starter in 1975 when Verion Biggs was injured. "I can't take as many chances as I did before because Chris would be telling me the play would be coming our way by the formation.
"It'll take a game or two, maybe longer. before Stu and I jell on our stunts," he added. "And I have to prepare for them running my way more. It's no slap against Stu. but with Chris gone we're going to have to bear down more because Chris has been in the league 13 years. and you're substituting 094aq07590759 ad 3 redskins
"My biggest problem," said O'Dell. "is just getting adjusted to the first team. I feel I know everything. all the defense. It's just a matter of communications with the guys on the field I've played with the second team and I feel very comfortable with them."
The players heard about Hanburger's attack of appendicitis at a team meeting shortly before practice.
"We'll have to make a decision on Fischer next week." Allen said. "The fact that he can run well, it's a real plus," adding that he may throw Fischer into some drills during practice this week.
If Fischer can play. second-year man Gerard Williams will be the back-up. If Fischer can't play, Allen still has not fully made up his mind on whether to trade for a veteran cornerback or to allow Williams to play the position regularly. With David Thomas cut. the Redskins now have only one reserve cornerback in camp - rookic Skip Sharp.
Thomas. once the leading pass interceptor in the World Football League came to the Redskins with Williams last year. But Allen apparently feels that Sharp, a fifth round draft pick of the Eagles cut earlier this summer and picked up on waivers by the Redskins is a better prospect for now.
Only Allen could find a bright side to Hanburger's ailment.
"It it had to happen. I'd rather have it happen now than the week of the Giants' game," he said. "We at least have a chance now to get ready. "Everybody will have to give more. and that doesn't imply the defense alone. We have to play better offense and better special teams."
Defensive tackle Bill Brundige, who had been filling in for injured starter Dave Butz, was overcome by the heat and was unable to continue practice. So Butz, who has a stone bruise on his right heel, stood at his position during the workout but did not run . . . Equipment manager Tommy McVean made a special trip to Pittsburgh last night to pick up a pair of shoes that will fit Butz properly. Butz wears size 121/2 EEEEEEE.